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Next MTA chief should work overtime to cut these costs

A west bound Long Island Rail Road train

A west bound Long Island Rail Road train entering Jamaica station while commuters stand by Wednesday Aug. 5, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Overtime costs and related work rules are often the third rail of public transit politics because they involve unions and bargaining. Seven Long Island Rail Road workers earned more than $200,000 in overtime last year, up to tripling their pay. That’s stunning in the context of this year’s fare increase, service disruptions and other commuter nightmares. The next head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority must navigate this tricky terrain and the minefield of the union contracts that go with it. As a search committee looks at candidates, here are questions to ask during interviews.

  • How can overtime be reduced? How much is due to unavoidable extra hours in emergency situations, versus inefficient management? Can you identify work rules and aspects of the contracts, like dollars earned for switching between electric and diesel trains, that inflate the costs?
  • How do you ensure safety when some employees are “literally working around the clock”? That’s unacceptable. Can more employees be trained to have these specialized skills?
  • How much overtime is deliberately railroaded toward older longtime workers in the tradition of padding a pension in the final years to increase the payout? Where on the LIRR seniority list are the employees making the most overtime?
  • Which work rules governing LIRR worker payments make sense in a modern transit world? Which are outdated but lucrative for workers?
  • How closely does the MTA track overtime? Which executives are responsible for keeping a lid on it, and how are they held accountable?

It’ll take audacity and ingenuity for the new MTA boss to uncover the remnants of featherbedding. Until then, we’ll have the same headlines about excessive overtime payments, spurts of outrage and unanswered questions.— The editorial board